My friend Jane lost her husband to scleroderma over two years ago. I have another essay about Steve that I will post today as well because he is someone worth knowing if only through my words and memories.
I emailed Jane last week and admitted to her that I was starting to fear that it was the beginning of my end. She came to visit with me a few days later, and we talked and cried. Our emotional pains are the opposite sides of the same coin: love. She bears the pain of the one left behind, and I bear the pain of the one who is leaving.
Her children are grown, and she just welcomed her first grandchild into her life. She has the gift of hindsight and can share with me things that only the mothers of grown children know. I told her everything I was doing to prepare for the children and how I was trying to give them everything I could to allow them to feel anchored even when I am gone.
Then she made the most insightful suggestion, “Tell them where to go to find you.” I didn’t get it at first, “How the hell do I know where they will find me?” The seed planted into my psyche I returned to it again and again over the next several days.
I reflected on the fondest moments of my life. As a child I loved “Sundae Night” when we would gather at the kitchen table and make monstrous ice cream sundaes. My dad would spray canned whipped cream on our noses while we reached for it with our tongues. Only my oldest brother, Anthony, was ever able to get it off without using his hands. My fondest grade school memories were lunches, which we ate in our classrooms because we lacked a cafeteria, followed by recess. And in high school I loved the after school hours I spent in the Student Council Office, especially my junior year when Amy Bozzi, Chris Klaster, my best friend Marie & I wrote the end of the year show. We ate a lot of pizza in that office and shared a lot of laughs.
As my memory marches on through time I am struck by how few “milestone moments” are among my fondest memories. One of my favorite memories of Bill is not our wedding but a day we went hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. It must have been 95 degrees and we happened upon a stream. We took off our socks and shoes and immersed them in the clear, cool water. We even took a picture of our feet, side by side, and called it “Happy Feet.” Of course there are many more memories that bring me equal joy, but something about that moment crystallized everything about us as a couple: active, happy, spontaneous, and humorous.
I have had the great fortune to travel to many beautiful places. And again it is not moments beholding great monuments or scenic landscapes that spring to mind most vividly, but rather simple or funny experiences that happened along the way. When I was working as a consultant for the World Bank in East Africa, a group of us decided to take a safari to Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. My friend Marisol and I drank way too much coffee and finally had to ask the van driver to pull over so that we could pee. Mind you, this area is a grassland with nary a large bush or tree to be found. Marisol immediately began to pee on the side of the road while I ran off a little ways for some modicum of privacy. Mary, who we had already named the “Photo Slut,” took a picture of poor Marisol squatting on the road. I was watching this occur and thinking to myself, “Well I have heard of peeing your pants but never peeing while you laugh your ass off.” It remains one of the funnier memories of my life.
My memories of the children are far too many to mention. I remember Amelia running on Berkeley’s campus in her first pair of shoes: little Nikes with a pink swoosh. I remember the way Aidan always hummed to himself in the car and how he and I napped everyday together after he nursed. I remember hiking with them though Duke Forest: Aidan on my back, Amelia by my side, and Watson on his leash. I remember learning to watch Aidan endanger himself on playground equipment, trees, major appliances and to hold my breath and my tongue, trusting that he knew what he was doing. I remember my eyes welling with tears the first time I watched Amelia perform on her violin; there is something magical about children making music.
There are so many places and moments that I would love to return to for just a minute. I would love to touch the newborn versions of my children just one more time and inhale their otherworldly scent. I would like to sit and lunch once more on the Champs des Mars with Aidan and Amelia with the Eiffel Tower in the background, Aidan chomping on a baguette and Amelia on her pain chocolate. I would like to picnic in the backstreets of Venice once more with Bill and the kids before boarding a ferry to Murano. But mostly I would like to dance with them again in my bedroom and wish the moment could last much longer.
Of all my many fond memories, one stands out. The July after we retuned to North Carolina from living in California for 3 years, we went to the Festival for the Eno. It was insufferably hot that day and the children were growing restless for their naps. We found an open space near one of the sound stages where a band was playing blue grass music. We settled down onto our blanket. Aidan lay next to me nursing and drifting off to sleep. Beside him lay Amelia with her chubby cheeks facing me. Bill lay on the far side of the blanket. Beneath the elms it was cool and comfortable. I thought about these children, these blessings. I thought about how I had breathed life into them, even with my sick lungs and how they now breathed life back into me with their very existence. The trees and I played peek-a-boo with the sun and the breeze flowed over me. It was the most perfect moment of my life.
So that is where I will tell them to go. I’ll be at the Eno and everywhere else I was ever happy. But I want them to know that I will be wherever they are as well. When they are happy, I will be sharing their joy. When the tears fall, I will be there to hold them and wipe the tears away. I will be there to listen to their angry shouts and feelings of doubt. They may not see me but I will be there somehow.